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Interview with Ward Schumaker

Interview with Ward Schumaker

Penelope Dullaghan

October 12, 2009


By not becoming a ‘fine artist.’ Here’s what happened: it was 1965, I was 22 years-old, and judges had awarded me first place in a competition in my native state of Nebraska. I needed the money to pay the tuition for my last semester at college. But others (including the governor) decided my painting was pornographic. I finished school, bought a car, and got out of the Midwest as fast as I could. I moved to San Francisco, got an apartment a half-block off Haight, and became a paper salesman. I wasn’t going to mess with art anymore — way too dangerous. Instead I lit a lot of reefers and tried to block out the inane rock-and-roll coming from up the corner. (I hated hippie music; I was more into classical and serious electronic stuff like Stockhausen.)

But 8 years later I’d had a son and I didn’t want him to grow up with an unhappy, stoned salesman for a father; so I quit my job, quit smoking grass, and snuck back into something related to art: graphic design. Then, when I hit 35, I went into illustration.



How did you get started in the illustration field?

I spent years stippling newspaper coupon ads, which would have seemed like hell to anyone else, but compared to being a paper salesman, it was heaven. Still, it was never my taste. I referred to stippling as Presbyterian Purgatorio. On the day I hit Three sketches, revise one of them, then do finish (with revises if necessary) in Photoshop.


What is your creation process (start with pencil sketches, etc…)?

First: words. I write down everything the story reminds me of. Then I make connections. Then sketches.

How do you market/promote your work?

I used to be the postcard king. But today emails seem to work better. Limited emails, that is. And getting in shows. That’s where much of my work comes from. Especially, Print’s Regional Design Annual. That’s been good for me. But word-of-mouth and repeat customers are my best source of work. I pride myself in clients I’ve had for a long time; I’ve done over 70 illustrations for one of them.

Do you have a rep? Why/why not?

I have reps in France and Germany. I don’t speak a word of German; and my French rep can get me through doors I’d never be able to open on my own – like Hermès.


What was one of your favorite assignments?

Doing limited edition books for The Yolla Bolly Press: great authors (Gertrude Stein and M.F.K.Fisher), handmade paper, freedom to do what I thought right, letterpress printing, and best of all, two literate and brilliant clients, Carolyn and Jim Robertson. If Jim hadn’t died (which led to the closing of the press) I’d still be working for them. The closing of their press led me to do my own books, one-of-a-kind, hand-painted. But I’d love to find another client even half as brilliant as Jim and Carolyn.

I’ve also always enjoyed working on logos, especially those that don’t take themselves too seriously. Like Mr. Toasty, done for Columbus Bakery Cafe. Or Moose’s Restaurant in San Francisco.

And nothing made me feel better than being asked to illustrate a brochure for San Francisco’s Japanese Cultural Community Center. Like many artists, I hold Japanese aesthetics in the highest esteem.

And animals. Gotta love drawing animals.

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